Diamonds, What it is it about them that makes everyone crazy? A bag of the elusive gemstones leads a series of corrupt cops towards a purgatorial hellscape deep in the mountains in Hsu Fu-Hsiang’s remake of the 2004 Korean film To Catch a Virgin Ghost, Treat or Trick? (詭扯, guǐ chě). The title could stand in for diamonds themselves which after all have little intrinsic value outside the illusionary desirability they evoke, but also hints at the “trickster” nature of its duplicitous hero.
Corrupt cop Feng (Chen Bolin) admits that he didn’t join the police out of a fierce sense of justice, but because it was more convenient for his gangster lifestyle as he demonstrates in arresting a bunch of crooks only to stage a secondary robbery, getting his best friend Chiang (Yen Sheng-yu) to pose as a thief taking him hostage and running off with a bag of diamonds. Only, unbeknownst to Feng, Chiang has been picked as a fall guy for Boss Lin (Yu An-shun) to whom they were supposed to deliver the diamonds and has taken off with them. This is obviously a problem for Lin who takes cop Psycho hostage and charges Feng, his buddy Monk, and a guy from the gang Yang (Liu Kuan-ting), to track him down and bring the diamonds back. The trouble is that Chiang got into a car accident swerving to avoid the ghostly presence of a young woman and has wandered into a very weird village where everyone seems to be acting suspiciously.
In many ways, you could see the village as a kind of purgatorial space inhabited by those trapped between two worlds towards which the gang of corrupt cops is beckoned to answer for their transgressions. Meanwhile, they’re also haunted by the figure of the mysterious woman whose presence is both help and hindrance hinting at dark goings on in this very remote area where visitors are a rarity. Having found out about the diamonds, the villagers are obviously keen to keep hold of them but then there are only so many to go round and it’s not as if you can cut a diamond in half, so the dilemma remains exactly who is going end up with the loot and how creating division on both sides.
You couldn’t really say that either of these groups are the good guys, but it’s true enough that the villagers variously end up paying a high price for their greed usually caught out by their attempts to get one up on the cops, injured by backfiring weapons or caught in their own traps. Meanwhile, even Chiang falls victim to the essential weirdness of the village in succumbing to a freak accident which leads some to believe that he is dead though in a running gag he turns out to be more or less unkillable as if the eeriness of the place will not allow him to die no matter how many times he’s thrown off a hill, nailed in the head, crushed under falling objects, or set on fire. Yet Feng and his buddies remain largely untouched, outsiders in this strange world and completely by accident occupying some kind of murky moral high ground in trying to rescue their friend (along with diamonds which they need to get Psycho back and save their own lives by smoothing things over with Lin).
Hopping from the gangster movie to supernatural horror, martial arts, and mystery Hsu’s absurd morality farce throws in a series of running gags from “unlucky” Chiang’s strange ability to survive the unsurvivable to frequent allusions to the diamond sutra while possessing its own sense of karma as the greedy find themselves victims of their own scheming, but then perhaps not as the final twist might imply. Even so in this weird place, natures and destinies perhaps possess the ability to change, eccentric thug Yang getting far too into his role as a cop and finally deciding he’d like to be a “good guy” after all while guided by their brotherhood Feng and Monk too find themselves rediscovering a sense of justice in accidentally helping to solve a long dormant cold case. It’s all curiously circular, which is perhaps fitting for this farcical morality tale, but the jury seems to be out on whether even the brotherhood between Feng and his buddies not to mention their newfound sense of justice can survive the cursed allure of the stolen diamonds.
Treat or Trick screens in Chicago April 9 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.
Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)